Swampy: a tunnel star undermined

Newspaper columns, TV shows, makeovers - his fellow eco-warriors are not happy. Graham Ball reports

The surge of publicity that turned Swampy, the environmental protester, into a media celebrity is now creating waves of unrest among his underground supporters.

The vibes echoing around the secret world of the subterranean saboteurs imply that "Swampy fever" may be about to give way to "Swampy sickness".

Some dedicated activists believe that the star status surrounding Daniel "Swampy" Hooper is so great that it overshadows the issues they are fighting for.

They argue that the New Age eco-warrior, who became the acceptable face of the environmental resistance movement, has feet of clay.

Writer Michael Fordham attacks the Newbury by-pass tunneller and folk hero in the current issue of the youth style magazine Dazed and Confused.

"Countless columnists have eulogised Swampy's brand of free-range political protest," said Mr Fordham.

"The media need stars and figureheads to fill airtime and column inches. In reality, however, Swampy is just one member of a network of hundreds, perhaps thousands of committed individuals all over the country, who are prepared to put their bodies on the line for an ideal."

A fellow protester, Alan, an ex-Para, who fought with Swampy to prevent the new runway at Manchester airport, is equally scathing. Alan was based in the Flywood camp at the protest site in Bollin Wood, Cheshire.

"Flywood was the camp to be at, Babylon council estate we called it. Right on the front line, they were all head cases," he said.

"Swampy was in Cliff Richard [camp]. They got all the media attention, most of the food, booze and cash handouts."

Swampy, 24, comes from a middle-class family from High Wycombe, Bucks, and has been a full-time protester for almost three years.

"The reality is that the people at the core of the environmental protest movement are not all nice fluffy middle-class individuals," said Mr Fordham. "They are people who have led troubled lives and for the most part the sub-culture of the camps is their only family."

On Friday a new exhibition of 105 photographic images from two years of the environmental protest movement opens at the Dazed and Confused gallery in Old Street, London.

The exhibition will feature portraits of 30 protesters - but Swampy's is not included.

The pictures of protesters in their camps in Newbury, Manchester and Devon are the work of photographer Nick Clague.

"There is one image of Swampy in the exhibition," said Mr Clague, who spent two years assembling the material for the show. "It shows a protester, 'Dave with the Green Hair', who had been invited in by a neighbour to have a bath and something to eat. He is sitting on a sofa watching TV and Swampy is on the screen. It makes an important ironic point."

Photo editor Philip Poynter helped select the pictures for the "Mayday Mayday" exhibition which will run at the east London gallery until 4 July.

"I think it is true that there is a feeling of resentment among some. Swampy has done no more and no less than a number of other anonymous campaigners," said Mr Poynter.

"Others feel that what he does undermines their arguments. They realise that the right-wing press love to make a mockery of what they do ... They want it to be known that they are not just a bunch of nutters who enjoy climbing up trees and hiding down holes."

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